Program takes class outdoors

By Beth Oltmanns

The Outpost NIU program is seeking students looking for adventure.

The program, formerly Xtreme Lit., is a class that combines classroom experience on the Internet with field experience from hiking in the back country of Yellowstone National Park to rock climbing in Penitente Canyon.

Along with the name change, the program, now in its fifth year, will become interdisciplinary for the first time in the 2002 summer class, said David Barrow, Outpost NIU program coordinator. Students can receive up to six semester hours of undergraduate, graduate or honors credit in English, women’s studies or sociology.

Most of the students in the class are undergraduate, but some are teachers working on advanced degrees or gaining professional development credits, Barrow said.

“We hope to recruit at least 12 students for the program,” he said.

The class runs from June 6 to July 28. The first four weeks is when all of the reading is done and students participate in the virtual classroom.

“We discovered its a wonderful way for students to interact,” Barrow said.

No on-campus participation is required for the course. Students can access the virtual classroom from anywhere at any time to participate in discussions, receive and submit assignments and obtain notes.

Students already will have a common base before they actually meet through participation in the virtual classroom, said William Minor, chair of the department of sociology.

Minor is teaching the sociology courses, which focus on environmental sociology. He likened the class to an ideal internship that will integrate learning experiences.

The women’s studies courses, eco-feminism and women and nature, will be taught by Diana Swanson, an associate professor in women’s studies and English.

The English literature classes will be taught by both Swanson and Barrow.

After four weeks in the virtual classroom, students and professors will meet in DeKalb on July 6 for the field experience that covers the last three weeks of the course.

The outdoor experience helps students to understand the texts, and the texts help the students to understand the outdoor experience, Barrow said.

“I think the point of getting out there is to experience being in nature ourselves for a significant amount of time,” Swanson said.

The trip begins by heading to South Dakota for a stop at Dan O’Brien’s buffalo ranch, Barrow said. O’Brien is an author, environmentalist, buffalo rancher and falconer.

Next is Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park where students will spend seven days in the back country, Barrow said. Last year Barrow’s group hiked 75 miles round-trip.

“Lots of things that happen are absolutely unpredictable,” he said.

The course also advertises rock climbing in Penitente Canyon, whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River, visits to dams and hydropower plants and a day at the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde.

Classes still are held during the field portion of the class.

“The classes in the field are similar to the classes you might hold in a classroom,” Barrow said. “They include lectures by professors, students presentations, journal readings and readings or discussions by guest lecturers.”

Both Minor and Swanson are looking forward to their involvement with the program.

“I think the wilderness part is going to be a lot of fun,” Minor said.

Swanson echoed his enthusiasm.

“I just think it’s going to be really fun,” she said.